Sugary supplement drinks 'ruining elderly people's teeth'
Growing numbers of elderly people are ending up needlessly losing their teeth and suffering painful infections because of the rising use of high-sugar supplement drinks, dentists have warned.
The sugary drinks, which were given to older people to build up their strength, were helping to ruin their teeth, said Dr Anne Twomey, a dentist in Carrigaline in Cork.
"The older person may be on several medications which cause dry mouth and the damage happens as a result of the high sugar. They may also not be brushing their teeth."
This trend has only emerged in the past five to 10 years and comes as more older people live longer with their own teeth.
A decade ago, they would nearly all have had dentures, she pointed out.
"It's a perfect storm. It is exacerbated by visitors to hospitals and nursing homes bringing them sugary treats," said Dr Twomey, who is vice-president of the Irish Dental Association.
"They may not be able to brush their teeth themselves and there is nobody brushing for them," she said.
It can mean an older person's remaining teeth are wiped out in about three months. "By the time I see them, they may have just dirty black roots left," said Dr Twomey.
The knock-on effect is that they are losing teeth, which, in turn means they are less able to enjoy a variety of healthy foods, such as fruit.
"I am not saying the sugary supplements should not be used but there are alternatives that also need to be included in the diet.
"These could include super milk with added vitamins and home-made soup. We need to strike a balance."
Dr Twomey, who first highlighted her concerns in the 'Journal of the Irish Dental Association', cited one patient who was 75 years old and very frail.
She weighed just 40kg and had end-stage Parkinson's disease and mild dementia.
Nursing staff were unclear if she had a toothache and she was distressed. It emerged the woman's teeth were only cleaned twice a day with a sponge. Dr Twomey had to carry out phased tooth extractions on the woman.
"A week later, the woman was unrecognisable as she was sitting eating her dinner. She now has an electric toothbrush I have shown assistants how to use. The HSE is reneging in its duty to provide adequate care for nursing home patients," she said.
She said that training programmes for healthcare assistants in nursing homes in oral care should be mandatory and meaningful.
"A low-sugar message should be sent out to all. These patients did not reach old age on a high sugar diet."
Visitors should be encouraged to bring non-food gifts.
"Patients' bedrooms in nursing homes can often resemble a sweet shop. Irish people have a tradition of bringing a food gift when visiting," she said.